6 Strategies for Developing Capacity to Lead Beyond Capability

Today’s leaders are often still “manager technicians” at the same time, juggling some of the work of the organization.  On top of that, innovations in work methods and technology has expanded individual capabilities and seems to make these efforts more effective, leaving the question of how much is too much unanswered as leaders keep pushing along.


“What we know” is comfortable, reliable and predictable.  While “what others know” is a mystery sometimes fraught with stress and unnecessary drama — not necessarily due to others, but often due to our expectations. Now, I’m capable, but do I have the capacity to be capable at the level at which the work is growing?  This is the challenge I’ve faced as Hypatian Institute, Inc. evolves, and these strategies grew out of that experience:

Plan and Strategize
Simply handing off a responsibility is the best way to ensure the least amount of efficiency and the most turbulence.  Before the hand-off consider what is new to the teammate, what might they encounter, what doesn’t need re-inventing, and when the assignment needs to be complete.  And determine a system that works for you.  Even though we’re in a nonprofit setting, we’ve started using Agile Methodology, often incorporating two-week SCRUM sprints to help move projects along.

Set Clear Expectations
Essential to planning and strategizing, but still worthy of it’s own category, is setting well outlined, clear expectations about the outcomes you’re looking for in the end. How should this assignment be delivered?  Should drafts be submitted for feedback?  What’s your criterial for quality?

Allocate Time
Maybe it’s going to take you a day to do this assignment and that’s a day you don’t have, so you delegated.  But this teammate needs to catch up, so plan for 300% more time.  Maybe this is urgent.  That just means you’ve got to schedule opportunities to touch base and receive status updates.  It won’t suck up your day, but you’ll need to . . .  

Be Available
Assume the questions will come, and that they’ll come at the least favorable time. Being prepared to plan your day(s) accordingly will alleviate stress.  You’re mentoring this team member and preparing them to succeed in this instance and into the future. Fostering skill development and confidence takes time.  However that’s less time than continuing to do it yourself forever, or not taking the time up front to help the teammate, and the team, succeed.

If I always waited for my team to communicate with me about their new responsibilities, I’d increase my stress levels. Not to mention the amount of uncertainty they’ve got to wade through that detracts from their professional development. So, I check in with a tone that emphasizes polite inquiry and no judgement.  I often learn something new in the process.  And I offer encouragement, kudos and guidance as appropriate.  The side benefit is that if they know you’re going to check in, they won’t procrastinate either.

Let Go
Letting it go means more than just putting a responsibility on someone else’s plate, it also requires reflection, the ability to control your impulse to step in, and thoughtful, constructive feedback.  A lot of times, you’ll have to send something back for refinement or with edits and changes.  Taking something back to add finishing touches or polish off ideas is tempting.  You can do it quickly, but the whole point is to not do it at all.

It’s a process, so the more you do it, the smoother the process will become.  At the same time, you’ll find your teammate brings something unexpectedly new to the way you think about the responsibility and how it’s delivered.  And that, my friends, is expanding the capability of your organization, as well as increasing its capacity to produce.